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Is Football Turning Into A Soap Opera?
Greg (Tottenham Hotspur) 4 years ago
A few days ago I was in a newsagent, idly waiting for someone to buy cigarettes, and looking at the rows of magazines and newspapers. The magazines the always amuse me most are the soap magazines; there are often three or four different titles, but all featuring the same faces, the stars of Coronation Street or Eastenders, cheaply photographed, often looking sad or tormented or distressed. And I chuckle to myself, wondering not only who watches such terrible TV shows, but who then buys magazines dedicated to soaps, in which “shock” revelations and tawdry headlines are accompanied by thin, badly written interviews. “Who are these idiots?” I think to myself. But just as I’m feeling smug about myself, I remember that I am just as guilty: because football is just soap opera for men.

Obviously, this is an oversimplification, because there are plenty of men who enjoy soap operas and lots of women who love football, but in essence they both provide the same purpose. To provide a constant stream of distraction, a never-ending supply of likeable heroes and pantomime villains. Love, hate, comedy, banality, sex, goals. It’s all there.

I don’t know if football started as a soap opera. I imagine that it didn’t. Maybe it started life simply enough, as a 90-minute game, followed by handshakes and a pint in the pub. Those days are long gone.

Football commentators often like to talk of the high-drama of the game, as though penalty shoot-outs and Cup Finals were Greek tragedies, but most football games are as much farce as tragedy and the sheer amount of football on television means that the drama, such as it is, is constantly diluted. A World Cup final may be Shakespearean, but by the time you’re bored enough to watch a League Cup replay between Charlton and Doncaster, you have to accept that it’s more Hollyoaks than Hamlet. It’s a constant stream of regurgitated storylines and actors who look strangely familiar.

Of course, it’s not really the matches themselves that make football feel like a soap opera. It’s everything that surrounds them: The transfer windows; the managerial sackings; the gossip columns; the leaks on Twitter; the fantasy football leagues; the allegations against referees; the racist chants and the pitch invasions. Because a lot of football fans aren’t really that interested in what happens on the pitch. Scouring the forums and messageboards and blogs, the majority of football fans aren’t writing about the actual games – of the dull mechanics of goals and tackles and saves – they are getting worked up about the possible new transfers, or the rumours of takeovers, or which two players had a fight on the training ground. The football itself is often neglected. More columns are written about whether Chelsea will sign Modric from Spurs than on the actual games between Chelsea and Spurs.

I suspect that the soapification of football has been massively accelerated by the advent of 24-hour news channels and the Internet. There has never been more appetite for fresh new revelations, for some fresh fix of football gossip. I am sure that every single person reading this blog has, at some point, sat at work, idly refreshing the news page of a football website in the desperate hope of some new bit of news – anything, be it the announcement of a League 2 loan signing or the result of a reserve match played in front of 25 people. We devour football news. And the press has responded to this appetite for news in their own, predictable way, offering up as much salacious gossip as they can, dressing up old news as fresh revelations, deliberately misunderstanding interviews if it gives them a good headline. No press conference is so dull that a journalist somewhere can’t find a controversial, newsworthy angle. If a footballer says he is happy with the new manager, the press will write that he hated the old manager. If a tree falls in a forest and there is no one around to see it, the press will still make up a quote saying that the tree dislikes Mourinho’s training methods.

In recent years it feels like football has actually started stealing plotlines from soap operas. We’ve had the England captain allegedly sleeping with another player’s ex-wife, we’ve had Joey Barton in and out of prison, David Beckham modelling in his underpants, Luis Suarez refusing to shake Evra’s hand and Mario Balotelli setting off fireworks in his bathroom. And just like soap operas, the players who are villains one week are heroes the next. I’ve watched soap operas with friends and laughed at how worked up seemingly intelligent people can get over ridiculous, implausible storylines and paper-thin characters - but are we football fans any better? We’ve all screamed at the television, hating some footballer or the other because he’s playing against our team. We’ve all sworn that a goal was offside when we know it wasn’t, or wished death upon a referee for making a perfectly good decision. We thrive on the drama of it. We need the romance and excitement and betrayal and banality as much as any lonely housewife who spends her weekends watching Emmerdale.

None of this is a criticism of football. It is an entertainment industry, and much of that entertainment has nothing to do with the game itself. The real stories aren’t Blackburn 2 Bolton 1, they are EXCLUSIVE: ARSENAL TO SIGN PODOLSKI or BALOTELLI CRASHES GOLF BUGGY INTO THE MOON.

Blog by Greg

This blog does not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of footytube or its partners.
Toshak (Liverpool) 4 years ago
I liked your article, and as an ex-pat living in the states I often get the comment that the English are very reserved, a quiet bunch, to which I reply that if you can make that comment you have never been to an English football match. It is the one place apart from the pub where we let loose. Passionate Englishman, not an oxymoron at the Football ground
ILikeTurtles (Arsenal) 4 years ago
Enjoyed reading this, and it's very true, but that's the glory of being a football fan, its non stop and we thrive on finding those little bits of gossip, helping us survive the week
Gooch (Bayern München) 4 years ago
Another fantastic article. I began thinking this myself a while back as I watched match highlights, noticing camera work that increasingly focuses on reactions of players and fans instead of what they are reacting to. People crave entertainment and an exciting storyline, and the drama that accompanies the sport makes each season unique, instead of the same schedule of games each year
Methods89 (Arsenal) 4 years ago
I wouldn't say it was football turning into a soap opera as such. It's everywhere, People crave celebrity culture and gossip, there's not much we can do about that
ManOnDMoon (Manchester City) 4 years ago
I have to agree. The ‘soapification of football’ is part of the more global disease that comes from the success of reality tv. Facebook and twitter as well. It must be that people like to have it that way, they enjoy watching The Truman Show. Except that players know they are in the show and still tell everyone who’s coming for dinner, what restaurant they like, “I’m on a train”, “Look what I see from my hotel window” etc
Affainyi (Arsenal) 4 years ago
I also highly agree. I can remember a time when I could watch a show that was interesting and/or informative without any drama. Now, it seems like everything has to have a reality show touch to it and this is seeping into our football. I find the best way to deal with it is to not have any interest in the general football news but rather focus only on the substance; the matches, the scorelines, the drama that happens within those white on green lines (such as stirring comebacks, magnificent plays and intriguing performances) and not the drama outside the stadium
Vishal024 (Arsenal) 4 years ago
Highly agreeable ideas and reasoning there, it's no doubt due to the media's depiction of football and predominantly because we fans feel more enticed and excited by trivial news as opposed to the results.

However, I think it's more of a culture than a "soap-opera". The realm of football extends beyond just the pitch, unlike most other sports. It's only natural that people are as fascinated by news even remotely related to football as they to the actual reports regarding results and what occurs on the pitch
Achiox (Manchester United) 4 years ago
Some very good observations with equally good points to support them
AradhyaK (Arsenal) 4 years ago
"More columns are written about whether Chelsea will sign Modric from Spurs than on the actual games between Chelsea and Spurs. "

To be fair, there's not much you can write about matches between Spurs and Chelsea ;P
Araz (Queens Park Rangers) 4 years ago
A great read Gregg, there were only cheese and onion crisps left in the cupboard, I was dreading them but this article made them go down without tasting like old socks.

I would even say that football can be more of a drama than the soaps, the soaps are purposely written fabrications which are meant to have some anchor in reality to make them passable. What makes football even better is that it is "reality" (lets leave Plato and Aristotle for another day!).

No one is writing the football script a such, and whilst News channels and the press weave little threads of fact in to fantastic stories (just like soaps), a far bigger chunk of what goes on in the football opera is driven by something that actually happened purely because footballers, and the people involved with them live in an alternative reality bubble where bizarre and otherwise unbelievable behaviour is common place and for my money that makes the sport of kings more dramatic, emotional and entertaining than what the writers of East Enders can dig up in the archives to be replicated again in 2012
Matt (Footytube Staff) 4 years ago
I think the Eastender 'drama drums' should be played over the PA just before every shot, substitute number shown on board and extra time minutes.

Just imagine it, "And Rooney take the ball just outside the area and.... DUM DUM DA DA dadadad.... Shoots over"
Otownballer (Arsenal) 4 years ago
All the world's a stage!
KamikaziUnited (Manchester United) 4 years ago
People are fascinated by celebrity culture, it's also unfortunate that some "football fans" today aren't really fans but just following the culture associated with football and being a football fan, the media sees and exploits this to make money. I for one, don't care about the other stuff only all aspects solely football related

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